Normally on Saturdays during the later stages of spring practice, the Navy football team participates in scrimmages at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in part so the coaching staff can evaluate the progress of the starters and significant backups.
This spring Coach Ken Niumatalolo has altered that routine, instead keeping his players on academy grounds and using that time to work on specific areas and situations with regard to the offense as he and his assistants refine the triple option.
Niumatalolo attributed his change of agenda to a coaching clinic he attended in which one of the speakers was Dick Vermeil, the former NFL coach who guided the St. Louis Rams to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV and took the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV.
“He just said coaches that roll the ball out for three hours and just scrimmage, that’s bad coaching,” Niumatalolo said. “I was sitting in the crowd, and I kind of put my head down. I wanted to sneak out. I’m one of those guys. But he just talked about how you can be so much more productive.”
So in that spirit, Niumatalolo has been using Saturdays this spring to put his players in situations where they can work on incorporating elements of the spread formation designed to suit quarterback Keenan Reynolds. While flourishing as a passer, the rising sophomore directed the Midshipmen (8-5) back to a bowl game after a one-year absence and helped Navy reclaim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy following a two-year hiatus.
Reynolds worked with the first team Saturday on a brisk morning in Annapolis, and in some formations, Navy had three and four players split out as receivers. Included in that group was Trey Miller, who began this past season as the starting quarterback before giving way to Reynolds in the fourth quarter of a 28-21 overtime win against Air Force Oct. 6 that triggered five consecutive victories.
Miller has switched to slot back, called the “A” back in the triple option, because the coaching staff wants the rising senior and one of the top athletes on the team to contribute more regularly than he would as a reserve quarterback.
“Especially with Trey, he played the position, so it’s easy for him to know what it’s like as a quarterback, what you look at, what you see,” Reynolds said. “It helps put him in a better position to make plays for us.”
Miller is among a handful of slot backs taking over the position that for several years had been among the most tested on the team. But next season, Navy will be without graduated starters Gee Gee Greene and Bo Snelson as well as John Howell, who started six games as a junior but missed most of last season with an injury.
Greene led Navy in rushing with 877 yards, and his average per rush (7.3) was the highest among Midshipmen players with at least 34 carries. Snelson, who attended Saturday’s practice, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and was one of the most respected leaders in the locker room.
In spring practice, Darius Staten and Geoffrey Whiteside are listed first on the depth chart at slot back. Staten will be a senior next season and amassed 184 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries last year. Whiteside will be a junior and had 111 yards on 13 carries this past season.